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Female family business CEOs' tips for success

Female family business CEOs' tips for success

Two high achieving KPMG Enterprise clients and female CEOs who have taken over their family businesses – Eliza Brown of All Saints Wine and Elise Gillespie of Bakers Delight Holdings – share how they are thriving at the top.

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Diverging paths, similar passions

According to the KPMG Enterprise & FBA 2018 Family Business Survey (to be released in April 2018), 78 percent of today’s business owners are male, but the next generation of business leaders are split equally between men and women.

Leading the way are Eliza Brown, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of All Saints Wines in Rutherglen, Victoria, and Elise Gillespie, joint CEO of Bakers Delight Holdings.

Both women exude enthusiasm for their respective industries, and are confidently steering their companies into the future. Here we discuss how they became leaders, and their secrets to success.

Eliza Brown, CEO, All Saints Wine

Adapting fast

When you work in a family business, there are two levels of relationships present: professional and family. Your boss may be related to you, which has its own particular dynamics.

Eliza had been working in a senior role in advertising when in 2001, she decided to return to work with her father, Peter Brown, part of the Brown Brothers wine dynasty, on their All Saints vineyard.

Neither Eliza, nor her siblings, had been pressured into working for the family business, but “the time just felt right”.

She fell in love with the Rutherglen countryside, the community and the lifestyle, and set about helping to grow the business, working closely with her father and siblings Angela and Nicholas.

Unexpectedly, Eliza was catapulted into the CEO role in 2005, after her father was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. She was 32, and remembers feeling how much she had to prove, both because of her youth, and because there were no other women on the Brown Brothers Board.

“The first few years were tough. There was no option to fail. I had to convince family members (many well entrenched in the business) that I was the right candidate, and was prepared to work hard.”

Eliza realised she needed drive a more commercial culture for All Saints and made some pretty radical decisions, such as focusing on certain product lines rather than others, and streamlining operations.

“I had to show that I was taking charge and was up to the task.”

Eliza’s transition was facilitated and supported by KPMG Enterprise Partner in Charge Dom Pelligana and the family business team, who advised on structures and forward planning. Eliza is joined in leadership by Angela, leading Sales and Marketing, Nicholas, General Manager, and her husband who also works in the business.

“We have an extraordinarily close working relationship. We each have different skillsets and integrate fairly seamlessly. We work together and socialise together. I firmly believe that a family that plays together, stays together,” she says.

Elise Gillespie, Joint CEO, Bakers Delight Holdings

Overseas experience

For Elise, the transition to CEO began in 2012 when she and her husband David Christie returned to Australia from Canada to work at Bakers Delight in senior roles. After 5 years of integrating into the business, they became joint CEOs in January 2017.

“The fact that we are a husband and wife team was a popular choice,” she says. “But Bakers Delight has a very open culture. Many senior executives are women, so there has always been an understanding of the need to work flexibly, to take maternity leave, and gender has never been an issue. Celebrating female talent is an integral part of our business.”

Bakers Delight was founded by Elise’s parents, Roger and Lesley. In Canada, Elise became Vice President of a Bakers Delight subsidiary, COBS Bread, which she says was an invaluable experience ahead of being a CEO.

“I was able to build my personal credibility based on results over several years,” she says.

Secrets to success

Eliza and Elise say the keys to leadership in family business are:

  • Work hard
  • Communicate well and take your staff on the journey with you
  • Seek different views to gain a holistic perspective
  • Be honest and transparent
  • Don’t be afraid to make tough decisions
  • Have a solid vision – never stop dreaming
  • Be a risk taker, particularly in the early stages of your business life cycle
  • Seek advice from professionals, especially on issues related to family business structure, so you benefit both the business and the family.

As for the next generation of their family businesses, both Eliza and Elise’s children are still small. So for now, both female CEOs are putting in strong foundations to ensure their organisations are ready for a thriving future.

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